The extraordinary Jane Birkin performed the songs of her late partner Serge Gainsbourg Sunday night at Town Hall before a rapt and appreciative audience. Birkin, who turns 65 today, still had all of her sweet girlsh charm, and was stylish as ever in a pressed white shirt and black pants, here unruly hair jutting out at all angles.
She seemed a bit sheepish in the bright spotlight, but her honey-dipped voice was delicate and clear, investing every phrase with meaning. At one point in the program - which was entirely in French - Birkin explained to us that she had basically given up on performing Serge's songs ("There was nothinng left to say," she explained) until she was invited to Japan to perform a benefit for the Tsunami victims. The experience gave her a new perspective, and she decided to take the show on tour - provided the Japanese musicians could come with her. (They said yes.)
This is the both the 20th anniversary of Gainsbourg's death (he was 18 years Birkin's senior) and the 40th anniversary of his groundbreaking concept album, Histoire de Melody Nelson - which, although a flop at its release, has been cited as a major influence by musicians as diverse as Beck and Portishead. "Sometimes, it takes a very long time for something to catch on," Birkin said. "But it does happen eventually."
As a surprise during the encore, her tour crew came onstage to sing her "Happy Birthday" - Serge style. She responded with embarrassment and grace, beaming widely. "Bless you all," she said in her British-French accent. "Bless you for being here."
Opening for Birkin was downtown drag performer Joey Arias, who managed to be both funny and musically impressive, helped immensely by the Ben Allison Trio, who served as his backing band. Arias was able to do some pretty crazy things with his voice, mimicking the guitarists high-pitched squeals like some kind of spectral experiment, or a jazz trumpeter on an endless riff.
More pics on the photo page.